CHURCHES OF CHRIST – WHO ARE WE?

I am a bit of a family tree guy and have even done my DNA. I have lately found another tree-fellow in our midst which is awesome.

Have you ever wondered about our Church Family Tree? Where and when did the Churches of Christ begin? Who were the founders? What makes us different to other churches?

 The following is adapted and augmented from the Churches of Christ in Australia website ‘Who are we’ section

This is Part One of “Where Do We Come From?”

The family of churches known as Churches of Christ, (or Christian Churches and Christian Church, Disciples of Christ) grew out of an early 19th Century movement with origins in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It sprang from a desire to get behind church traditions and seek the mind of Christ for His Church. A return to New Testament Christianity, its patterns and Biblical authority was seen to be the pathway ahead for unity among believers, breaking down denominational barriers and being the kind of church on earth Christ would have us be.

Some like to cite a combined churches 6-day revival meeting held in August 1801 at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, convened by local minister Barton W Stone, as a catalyst in the Movement’s beginning. Between 10,000 – 20,000 attended. An astonishing outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred, and it was a part of a number of revival meetings at that time, which have come to a part of what is now called, ‘The Second Great Awakening’.


Today there are congregations related to this Movement in more than 178 countries. There are over one hundred Churches of Christ in NSW.


What are the 'characteristics' or 'distinctives' of this global family? 

It is possible to choose ten major characteristics: 

1. A concern for Christian Unity 
2. A commitment to Evangelism and Mission 
3. An emphasis on the centrality of the New Testament 
4. A simple Confession of Faith 
5. Believers' Baptism 
6. Weekly Communion 
7. A Biblical Name 
8. Congregational autonomy 
9. Lay Leadership 
10. Diversity/Freedom/Liberty 

 “Where Do We Come From?” Part two.

Two key figures emerge in the genesis of the Churches of Christ. Alexander Campbell (bn Ireland of Scottish Parents - immigrated to USA- pictured left) and Barton W Stone (USA). Some even refer to the Churches of Christ as an expression of the ‘Stone-Campbell Movement’. Churches of Christ today still define themselves as a Movement not a Denomination. A group of independent churches congregationally governed, who seek to restore the Church to its New Testament principles and patterns and express these in their local context.

 

A concern for Christian Unity.  Defining statement “We are not the only Christians, but Christians Only”
In the 1808 'Declaration and Address' Thomas Campbell wrote that the 'Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one'. Another pioneer, Barton Stone, spoke of Christian unity being the 'polar star'. The 'Christian' movement was a movement for unity within the fragmented and often hostile and competitive church environment of that time but ultimately became a separate movement.

The ethos of the Churches of Christ is to strive for unity among Christ’s followers, giving full recognition and validity to their personal faith, in whatever movement or church they may be found.


A commitment to Evangelism and Mission
Unity was never an end in itself. Its desirability came out of the understanding 'that the world could be won only if the church became one'. Today that commitment is shown both by emphasising the need for personal commitment to Jesus Christ and by a concern for peace and justice for all people. Many will balance these two emphases but often one will be emphasised much more than the other.

 

Where do we come from#3

A New Testament emphasis

Defining Statements “No book but the Bible” and Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”


Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are 'People of The Book'. They believed that unity could be achieved by 'restoring' the New Testament church’ - stripping away the accumulation of traditions that had brought about division. The authority was to be the scriptures - not the church, traditions. Many still like to be referred to as part of the 'Restoration Movement'. All members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches would describe themselves as biblical.

Alexander Campbell’s father Thomas in a speech in 1809, around the time of our Movement’s formation, said  “God had provided, in his sacred Word, an infallible standard, which was all-sufficient and alone-sufficient, as a basis of union and Christian co-operation. He showed, however, that men had not been satisfied with its teachings, but had gone outside of the Bible, to frame for themselves religious theories, opinions and speculations, which were the real occasions of the unhappy controversies and strifes, which had so long desolated the religious world”. In his conclusion, he remarked Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” A profound silence was said to have fallen over the crowd, as the weight of that thought sunk into their minds.

 

Thomas had argued “Whatever private opinions might be entertained upon matters not clearly revealed, must be retained in silence, and no effort must be made to impose them upon others”. This statement really means then any belief, opinion, value or church practice or tradition, not endorsed in scripture cannot be bound upon another person. We need to remember that many of the church traditions here at Epping, for instance how we - worship, operate ministry, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, position of the table, sit in pews and meet in a church building, are merely a pragmatic means to an end.

Where do we come from?  part #4

 A simple confession of faith

Defining statement “No Creed but Christ”

From Matthew 16:15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

came the cornerstone question for church membership: 'Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God and have you accepted him as your Lord and Saviour?' Answering yes to that question is all that is required for membership. It is also the question most often posed at a believer’s baptism. This simple question avoided the use of often-divisive creeds, which had regularly become doctrinal statements to which people had to subscribe, in order to belong to a particular congregation.

 

Barton W. Stone Movement

In the hills of Kentucky, a Presbyterian minister named Barton W. Stone 1772-1844 was leaving the Cumberland Presbytery with his entire congregation. In doing so, this group formed what became the Cane Ridge Christian Church. In the book Attitudes and Consequences, Homer Hailey writes: "These people were calling themselves `Christians,' rejecting human creeds and party names, appealing only to the Bible for their guidance in faith and conduct."

 

Alexander and Thomas Campbell Movement

About this time, Thomas Campbell (1763 –1854) and his son Alexander Campbell (1788 – 4 March 1866) both Presbyterian ministers from Pennsylvania, broke from their denominational background and began organizing Christian Churches throughout that state. By 1832 the Campbell group, which by that time far outnumbered that of Stone, united with Stone's Kentucky churches to form the largest and fastest growing religious organization of that time. Again, let it be noted that their union was based upon their identical belief in the need and possibility of restoring the New Testament Church.

 Down through the ages many churches have employed…

·         Creeds (short pithy documents describing their group’s beliefs)

·         Confessions (longer descriptions of those beliefs, usually in book or booklet let form)

·         Catechisms (series of questions designed to teach new members their beliefs)

By contrast, Churches of Christ have been traditionally opposed creeds, confessions and catechisms. In their place, we have “mottos” which articulate principles as opposed to specifying doctrines such as

·         “Where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent, we’re silent”

·         “We’re not the only Christians, but Christians only”

·         “No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible, and No Law but Love”

 Where do we come from?  Part # 5

Believers' Baptism

Following the pattern of the New Testament, wherein we see - the gospel preached and responded to by faith with repentance and invariably believers were baptised, often without delay. One example of many is in Acts 2

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Only people who can make their own confession of faith are baptised. You may it therefore referred to as ‘Believers Baptism’. The means of baptism is by immersion. Here at Epping Church of Christ all elders and pastors are required to be baptised by immersion, but as we do not deem it necessary for salvation, the issue of membership boils down to - Are you a Christian and do you want to partner with us in the mission and ministry of Christ in and through our church?  From Matthew 16:15f “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

came the cornerstone question for church membership: 'Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God and have you accepted him as your Lord and Saviour?' Answering yes to that question is all that is required for membership.

 Baptism does not have to occur in a church. From Acts 8 we read 36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. No one was baptised in a church building in the New Testament. However, it is a terrific encouragement to the congregation to witness someone’s commitment to Christ in baptism. As a mentor once said to me, “Nothing else pumps life into a church like a baptism”.

 We have a supply of an excellent booklet by Ps John White on the issue of Believer’s Baptism and the office would love to give you a copy to consider being baptised as a believer. All our pastors and elders would be delighted to chat with you about it. I would strongly encourage you to consider being baptised as a believer if you are a follower of Christ.

Where do we come from? # 6

Weekly Communion

Once again the Churches of Christ seek to emulate the principle and practises of the New Testament church in their own setting. Acts describes the emphases of this new group of believers and once again from Acts 2 we read 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courtsThey broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 So we see the early church utterly devoted to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer, gathering for corporate worship, meeting in homes and praising God together.

 We read in Corinthians that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper in their homes, which was most likely as a part of a larger fellowship meal. They were joyful, glad and sincere in their fellowship and worship.

 Endeavouring to follow the New Testament practise, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ celebrate communion or 'The Lord's Supper' each Sunday on the ‘The first day of the week’ (The Jewish week ended on Saturday).

 The Lord’s Supper in our church, is led by those deemed to be of appropriate spiritual maturity and capability, and to affirm the ministry of members of the body of Christ, it is rarely led by the pastor. At ECC there is no distinction in gender as to whom may lead this important part of the service. Some regard it as quite central to our worship service.

 There will be occasions where the Lord’s Supper will not be offered.  These are usually where our focus will be on bringing non-Christians to church so that they may hear the gospel. Hence, the old-fashioned phrase used to describe such meetings was “Gospel Service”.

 We use non-alcoholic grape juice so as not to cause anyone with alcohol issues to stumble. Our flat un-yeasted bread is thought to be very similar to that of New Testament times.

We offer rice crackers for those with gluten allergy and black currant cordial for any with grape allergy. All served in individual cups for the reasons of hygiene.

 
Where do we come from? # 7

Biblical Name

In an endeavour to break down denominational barriers to inter-church fellowship and the veneration of saints in church titles, our founders looked to the scriptures to see how Paul addressed his letters and how he refers to churches. We find such phrases like

 

·         To the church of God in Corinth 1 Cor 1:2

·         to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. Gal 1:22

·         the church that meets at their house. Romans 16:5

·         churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus 1 Thes 2:14

and collectively referring to all the churches Paul writes

·         All the churches of Christ send greetings. Romans 16:6

 

So we see the words Church, Christ and a location as common. We are “Epping Church of Christ”. Note we are not The Epping Church of Christ, because we believe that Christ has many churches in Epping of which we are but one, and whose members are indeed our brothers and sisters. We are believers only, not the only believers.

 A number of churches in recent times are moving away from this tradition and using names that describe their mission such as:-  Restore, Discovery, Thrive, One to One, Lifegate, New Day. Others call themselves “Community Church” often linked in their name with the suburb or area in which they are located, for example “Coast Community Church” in Bensville Central Coast.

 From our national website ‘Members of the emerging 19th Century Movement wanted to be known only as 'Christians' or 'Disciples of Christ'. Slogans such as 'Christians only - but not the only Christians' and 'Biblical names for Biblical people' captured this emphasis. Congregations use names such as Church (or Churches ) of Christ, Christian Church or Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).’

  Where to we come from #8

Congregational Autonomy

  Congregations are independent, locally governed and self-determining. Each one operates as its own entity but is in fellowship with likeminded churches. Churches define their own direction and call pastors of their choosing.  Churches of Christ are not a denomination. Each congregation sees itself as part of a larger Movement and their relationship to one another is one of fellowship. Our Freshhope Office at Rhodes seeks to serve the Movement by doing things that the local church cannot. Such as aged care, co-ordinating overseas mission, co-ordinating aid response to natural disasters, social welfare and equipping people for ministry.  They also hold an annual leaders/pastors retreat; look after the credentialing of pastors and controlling the authority to officiate marriages within the Movement. They have no direct control over any congregation, which the exception of those churches who dwindle to the point they can no longer viably function. The deeds to our property and most churches are held by the Churches of Christ Property Trust. This helps prevent misuse of commonly held assets – like the pastor selling the manse and going on a world trip!

 There is a National Churches Leadership Gathering of the key leaders from each State. It seeks to provide guidance on matters effecting our Movement Nationally. Globally there is very limited organisation. The World Convention of Churches of Christ meets every few years at different global locations and endeavours to build up fellowship and understanding and cooperation within the whole global family. 
Where to we come from? #9

Lay Leadership

Defining Statement “Every member, a minister”

The 'Priesthood of all Believers' is a mark of all Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. We speak of 'mutual ministry'. Participation by lay people in all aspects of the church's life is a notable feature. Lay people nearly always conduct the sacraments. At Epping, women and men are seen as equal in functionality, with giftedness, character and calling being the determining factor, not gender. Women are welcome to serve as Pastors, elders and Deacons. But other congregations see distinct roles for men and women. This again reflects the right of each congregation to be self-determining according to how they read, understand and apply scripture in their context.

 As lay people can conduct any ministry, the idea of having a paid pastor was not an integral part of the original ethos of the Churches of Christ. However, experience showed over time, that having someone who had done specific theological education would be a tremendous asset in the ongoing teaching life of the church. In the early days, this person was regularly referred to as “The Preacher”. This both defined and implied a limitation to their role. Similarly, these days our Pastors are appointed by our congregation because we believe they have the calling, gifting and character to do specific roles needed in the church that are beyond the scope of the average church member, given the limitations of expertise or time required for people with normal work and family schedules. 

 At Epping, we speak about to serving one another by Finding, Filling and Functioning in our God-given gifts.

Where to we come from #10

Diversity
Defining statement 'In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things love (charity)”

 Perhaps this is the best-known slogan in our Family. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have always allowed for diversity and much of that diversity has been enriching. Diversity also allows for the possibility of intolerance and division and that has unfortunately been part of our Movement’s history. This Christian family is left with the challenge of finding for itself the unity-in-diversity it seeks for the whole church of Jesus Christ. 

 Unity is expressed in commitment to obvious major pillars of the faith on which we can all readily agree. Yet in Christian thinking, there is a healthy allowance for diversity of viewpoints on non-essential issues.  There may even be genuine points of difference in interpreting scripture. Differences of opinion on a range of more minor matters.  Recognising this - the call goes out 'In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty this then both allows and respects people’s right - under God, under scripture, and with a clear conscious to reach different conclusions on non-essential issues. Instead of having raging arguments of minor differences, our motto says and in all things love (charity)”. Allowing for and accepting that there will be differences, but letting the law of love always prevail at these times. The old word used here was ‘charity’, which to me has a sense of kindness, graciousness, generosity and latitude. This praise alone lived out in reality 'In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things love (charity)” can do more to unite Christians everywhere than almost any other measure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Characteristics of Our Churches – from our national website we read….

The family of churches known as Christian Churches, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Churches of Christ grew out of an early 19th Century movement with origins in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Today there are congregations related to this Christian World Communion in more than 178 countries. 

What are the 'characteristics' or 'distinctives' of this global family? 

Today in any Christian World Communion there is great diversity in belief and practice. There are also many features of each family that are shared by the whole church of Jesus Christ. What follows is an attempt to create an overall but simple picture of who Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are and so it needs to be read as a whole. It also needs to be read in the context that no attempt is being made to separate this family from the church of Christ universal but rather to describe its place within the whole church. 

So what are the marks of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ? 

It is possible to choose ten major characteristics: 

1. A concern for Christian Unity 
2. A commitment to Evangelism and Mission 
3. An emphasis on the centrality of the New Testament 
4. A simple Confession of Faith 
5. Believers' Baptism 
6. Weekly Communion 
7. A Biblical Name 
8. Congregational autonomy 
9. Lay Leadership 
10. Diversity/Freedom/Liberty 

1. A concern for Christian Unity

In the 1808 'Declaration and Address' Thomas Campbell wrote that the 'Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one'. Another pioneer, Barton Stone, spoke of Christian unity being the 'polar star'. The 'Christian' movement was a movement for unity within the fragmented and often hostile and competitive church environment of that time but ultimately became a separate movement. Today there are different understandings of how Christian unity might be understood and achieved ranging from commitment to the ecumenical movement, with some involved in dialogue and negotiation with other church families, through a belief that there is already an underlying God-given unity despite apparent division, to those who feel that they have discovered what the church should be like and that unity will come through others recognising this and joining with them. 

 

 


2. A commitment to Evangelism and Mission

Unity was never an end in itself. Its desirability came out of the understanding 'that the world could be won only if the church became one'. Today that commitment is shown both by emphasising the need for personal commitment to Jesus Christ and by a concern for peace and justice for all people. Many will balance these two emphases but often one will be emphasised much more than the other. 

3. A New Testament emphasis

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ are 'People of The Book'. They believed that unity could be achieved by 'restoring' the New Testament Church - stripping away the accumulation of traditions that had brought about division. The authority was the scriptures - not the church. Many still like to be referred to as the 'Restoration Movement'; others believe there are difficulties in accepting that the New Testament provides a clear unified model for the church and believe that the church must also be open to God's present word measured against the biblical revelation. All members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches would describe themselves as biblical but interpretation varies greatly. 

4. A simple confession of faith

From Matthew 16:16 came the cornerstone question for church membership: 'Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ and accept him as your Lord and Saviour?' Answering yes to that question is all that is required for membership though many congregations now have membership classes. This simple question avoided the use of - often divisive - creeds. Many today will not make any use of creeds; others will use them as a means of expressing faith - but not a test of faith. 

5. Believers' Baptism

Only people who have reached an age where they can make their own confession of faith are baptised. The means of baptism is always immersion. Many congregations will now accept into membership - by transfer - those who become church members through other traditions; other congregations are adamant that believers' baptism is essential. Baptisteries - for immersion - are features of worship facilities. 

6. Weekly Communion

Again believing that they follow the New Testament model, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ celebrate communion or 'The Lord's Supper' each Sunday. 

7. Biblical Name

Members of the emerging 19th Century Movement wanted to be known only as 'Christians' or 'Disciples of Christ'. Slogans such as 'Christians only - but not the only Christians' and 'Biblical names for Biblical people' captured this emphasis. Congregations use names such as Church (or Churches or church) of Christ, Christian Church or Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). There are also congregations within uniting churches in many areas and countries. 

8. Congregational Autonomy


Members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches live under the authority of Christ but this authority is seen as being worked out in the local congregation. For many this congregational autonomy is absolute; many others guard their autonomy jealously but have established ways of working together; many are organised in regions and/or nationally but still with a very large degree of congregational autonomy. Globally there is very limited organisation. Some countries that have nationally organised work cooperate through the 'Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council'. The World Convention of Churches of Christ is a global fellowship which endeavours to build up fellowship and understanding within the whole family. 

9. Lay Leadership

The 'Priesthood of all Believers' is a mark of all Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. We speak of 'mutual ministry'. Participation by lay people in all aspects of the church's life is a notable feature. Lay people conduct the sacraments. Women and men are seen as equal by many parts of the family but others see distinct roles for men and women. There is an employed and trained ministry with recognition varying from a 'paid member' to an expectation of special leadership. 

10. Diversity

'In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things, love' is the best-known slogan in our family. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have always allowed for diversity and much of that diversity has been enriching. Diversity also allows for the possibility of intolerance and division and that unfortunately has been part of our experience. This Christian family is left with the challenge of finding for itself the unity-in-diversity it seeks for the whole church of Jesus Christ.